Caveat: this is a long post. I wrote it is me to remember and for you if you have been or are going. If not, scroll down to the food.
We arrived in London at 9:30,Â bought Oyster Cardsfor each of us (for zones one and two only, and the best bargain for city transport),Â and took the slooooow tube into the city. WeÂ arrived to our hotel around 11ish, but could not check in until much later. We had planned to go to Portabello Market together this afternoon. We had our eveningÂ dinner booked at St. John’s long ago. Vanja had been unable to getÂ a ticket for a soccer game from home, but we had chatted with a family clearly all dressed for the afternoon game this day, and they told us that Vanja could easily get a ticket outside of the stadium. He was pumped. This day, Chelsea was playing, and it would be an excellent game. All tickets had been long sold out, as it was a play off game.
So, plans changed. We found ourselves back at the St. James’s Park Underground Station a few minutes after leaving it to head for our hotel!Â Vanja was headed one way, to the game. I was headed the other, to the market. His train came, and he was off! Mine didn’t. And it didn’t. And it didn’t. After 20 minutes, I asked the attendent. It was a Saturday and the Circle Line was closed for construction on most Saturdays this time ofÂ year. The Underground attendent serviceÂ was superb all over London; she gave me perfect instructions. So, off I ventured, all by myself, in this stately, and massive city. My first time here.
But I was not afraid!
After my Underground adventure, and it truly was that: very easy to follow and find where to go, but a maze of deep escalators and levels of service, I arrived at Notting Hill Station. I could not believe I had just arrived in London, and here I was already! I pumped up the stairs and out into the fresh, cool London drizzle and breathed it all in. Nothing looked too “Londony”. There was evenÂ a Burgar King across the street! I followed my instinct from my earlier map search and crossed that street and went over a block and then asked where I would find the market. “Just keep going down the street, and it is around the corner.” I looked up, and this is what I saw on the street I had just come into. I was excited. This was looking very “Londony”!
I remember som Spanish teachers from Madrid staying with us for a month a couple of years ago going nuts over a yellow school bus and telling us when we drove them to our home from the airport that our street was “just like the neighbourhood on Desparate Housewives!” We sure laughed, and now, her I am, having the same excitement over a London Taxi. Gorgeous! And the colours on this street and the boldness in the neighbourhood.
I was looking for William’s Bookstore and his flat with no luck, but saw many charming shops looking very similar!
I kept walking and walking, away from the colourful busy street, down a very quiet and lovely residential street after turning the corner… for quite a long while. Eventually (and fortunately at the perfect moment, right at this Kensington sign), I met a gardener working on a flower bed and asked again for directions. He grinned and pointed to the busy line of people a block behind me up the street. If you look, you will see them right behind the green box, just past the sign. Hilarious. And, more luck. I was actually at one end of the beginning of the market.
I was not expecting such a crowd on such a grey day. I loved the British Flag umbrella. I was around (in junior high school, actually) during the British fashion rage all over canada and North America. After the Beatles hit the air, they were followed by a long line-up of British music groups. Stores filled with clothing decked out in pop culture icons and symbols: the British Flag being a hugely popular pattern at that time. Doc Martens had just hit the market way back then shortly after, Elton John was wearing his platforms. This was the Britian of my childhood inside of my head. It was not the Britian of today. But, the umbrella awakened that longing within.
The antique galleries were everywhere. I was excited to see what was in them. As it was Saturday, the street was also lined with vendors, and the little shops had tables out front laden with their collectables.
These kinds of keepsakes were a rarety in western Canada. To see this much vintage jewlery on one table was startling. So many gorgeous pieces, and many we would find highly priced and of greater value at home as they are not so plentiful.
But, prices certainly were not cheap. However, definitely better than buying off of e-bay! Watching the people became as interesting to me as the buildings and the wares.
Along side the little shops, every now and then, there was a miniature antique mall that you could walk into, around, and through to another door than would talke you out to the street a little way down. Inside would be a myriad of vendors with a tiny nook each and a small table filled with their collections to sell. It was hot and stuffy and crowded in these. I honestly felt quite sorry for the working conditions of these vendors. But, it was their choice, and maybe they made a lot of money. I did not imagine that, but something brought them all here.
I was thrilled to find the little toy soldiers in the British uniforms below to the left laying on their stomachs, rifles drawn and aimed. It immediately reminded me of Robert Louis Stevenson’s poem, “The Land of Counterpane“. It is one I memorized when I was six or seven, and I imagined playing with toy soldiers in the sheets like he did. I had farm animals and cowboys. Not toy soldiers, so I played with those when I was sick in bed as a child, and always thought of this poem.
I have a love for miniatures, as well, so this entire collection captured me. The lady sitting by it was delighted I wanted to photograph it. These are toys of a time when one’s imagination led the play. Today’s child is truly missing the poetry of that time.
It did appear that above the shops there were flats where people actually lived. The traffic along this road must be very annoying to the tennants above., yet what a charming area to live in.
I kept taking photos of behind me and in front of me as the line of people seemed to never end. There was the occasional side street filled with a quiet charm and rows of cars!
I was eyeing the silver and mesmerized by the beauty of each glistening piece when I suddenly realized that I was peering into the back of a truck set up like a little shop. This fellow was smart to be able to just drive in and already be set up! It actually took a few minutes to get a shot as it was consistently crowded with shoppers investigating his wares.
And when I came out of the door from one of the little antique malls adjacent to his truck, the owner was standing right in front of me, dressed to match it. I had to have a photo of him. Just at the moment I went to shoot, he looked at me. I was embarrassed. His mouth curled into a small grinÂ and he nodded. I won’t forget him. His truck and he made a powerful impression on me this day. Can you imagine a formal silver tea set from grandmother’s table now hanging off of the side of a truck?
I have my collections. I love china and silver and knick knacks and keep sakes, but I was looking for nothing in particular. I was so charmed, and thoroughly enjoyed seeing so many unique pieces thoughÂ I did begin to feel overwhelmed. There was just so very much, and so many similar items at different places selling for close, and then vastly different, prices.
I asked questions about what this was and what that was and every person was more than happy to fill me in.Above, just under the fork, is a set of six gorgeous marrow bone utensils well over 100 years old that were for sale for 70 pounds. I held them. Admired them. Turned them, and really thought about them. I had never eaten marrow bone, but was going to eat it tonight at St. John. I wanted these, but it was selfish. No, silly. That was my thinking there, my first day. And, I believed, truly, that a modern version would be for sale at the restaurant. It was such a novel hit that this would be a logical marketing concept, me thought. Wrong. I truly regret not buying there. They were very special. The woman told me it was rare to get a matching set of six.Â I really would cherish them.
I found these gals later in front of their shop. They were dancing around touting their adorable cupcakes and having a lot of good fun.
A crowd at a corner with noses pressed against the glass drew me over to see what the attraction was. Sewing machines. Hundreds, maybe thousands, of vintage and antique Singer sewing machines. Instantly captivated, and face to face with my grandmother’s old treadle machine brought spontaneously forward from the depths of my memory, I found my nose pressed against the glass, too, investigating the various beauties.
I was not allowed in the corner door, but found another with a warm host allowing photos and willing to answer the questions everyone was asking: Where do these come from? What store is this? How many are there? How old are they? Who thought of this? Why are these here?
Though he was friendly, he really didn’t know answers to any of those questions. All Saints Spitalfields is a chain clothing store that moved into the Portobello Market location just this year. It has created a local outrage as the space used to house “more than 150 traders, including a 94-year-old woman, who made a living there…”. And there is a very real concern that the integrity of the neighbourhood and the market may be compromised by more such businesses.
I am beginning to wonder just how far this market goes. I have been walking for a long while and there are people in both directions on this long and winding road as far as my eye can see.
A little side street nearby was brimming with china of all kinds. Precious porcelain pieces all lined up row upon row upon row. I didn’t see anything in the Sweet Pea pattern that I so love. I didn’t look intently for it. But, the collectibles that are incredibly expensive on e-bay, I am sure can be found here somewhere. Everything else was here. Wedgewood was in abundance; Royal Doulton’s old patterns piled like waterfalls.
Finally, I asked a gal and her mom at a little side table how long the market street was. They both just looked at one another and laughed. Neither had ever walked the length. I was told that after the antique market is the fresh food market, then the eating and cooked foods booths, followed by a flea market and then other open air marketed items after that. “It just goes on and on and on for miles.”
Shortly after, I came upon this sign.
I was also tickled to find this collection of gorgeous toy vehicles.Â They were really beautiful and I have never made any effort to squelch my fetish for childhood toys.
Even on this grey day in London, people were out and about, busy and bustling, happy and friendly. There was a small surge in front of me to a door on my left when I noticed the first opportunity for a coffee. I immediately followed. It was mid afternoon, and I hadn’t had my morning coffee. The gal in front of me was very friendly when I asked what the line up was about. This was a famous cupcake shop. She could tell I was not impressed, and then told me she had been in NYC to Magnolia’s (as had I) and that these cupcakes were ten times better than anything there. I enjoyed a lively conversation with her, recalling that Lauren and I stopped at Magnolias on our way back from the Guggenheim and bought two different cupcakes. Both were light and tasteless and simply conveyors of overly sweet icing.
As we got closer to the door, I was delighted by the charming window display. I was told that I must have the Red Velvet cupcake from here. It is the best I will ever have.
So many things so new to me. First, there is no inside seating on Saturdays here, simply due to the crowd. Two outside tables only. And, if you buy to go, everything is cheaper. This was such a surprise to me. You are encouraged to buy and leave! Double click on the photos to see the little cards describing each treat with the considerable difference in the stay and go pricing.
I really enjoyed this little spot. I love pink. The brownies won me over. I did not buy one. More Whoopie Pies. I really don’t see the appeal of these. Cake with icing in a different form, I guess.
I loved the pink coffee cup I received. The service was exceptional. The customers in line were also friendly and even parted the line without me asking for me to photograph the showcase.
Little uses of the English language is different in Canada. We do use the word “rubbish”, but rarely to refer literally to garbage. We use the word “garbage” for that. Usually the word “rubbish” is used similarly to the word “nonsense” in Canada.
I did buy a Red Velvet cupcake, and it was packed away in a sweet little box. I was warmed by the fragrant aromatic coffee as I sipped my pink cup feeling much more at home now continuing my trek down the market.
I spotted a neighbourhood meat store and swerved over to take a peek at what was selling here. It was immediately apparent that what kind of animal was important and the cuts were considerably different than I am familiar with at home.
Yes, people living here actually do eat meat pies! (See the two pies below on top of the stereo placed there for a quite moment by the table vendor.)
Yes, even gas masks!
A corner crÃªpe stand. I must be getting close to the food area.
Yes. Right across the street, but I didn’t spot it at first, due to the crowd. The open air market is as busy as the antique area.
There is something about fresh produce that I find aesthetically appealing. I am consistently drawn to the vibrant colours and shapes though I have seen them a myriad of times before. Each time, no matter whether it is a familiar market, or a foreign one, I am exhilerated.
The lemons, mint, garlic and parsnips above look so fresh; the leeks wrapped in brown paper, so wholesome and verdant.
The Tomato Basil Bruschetta caught my eye. I think I have never seen bruschetta that was as rustic and wholesome and as desirable. No one sells this at an open booth in an Edmonton Market, yet it was completely appealing. A perfect burst of fresh farm flavours for a snack at a market like Portobello where you are walking and shopping. There was an impressive stack of the most wonderful over-sized loaves of crusty brown bread at one end of the table. There was a hefty basket bulging with fresh ripe glistening tomatoes. There were stacks of large fragrant lush green basil leaves, plump and tender. The baby arugula was pristine and perfect, layered in a large bowl. Bottles of fruity extra virgin olive oil and thick balsamic vinegar erect on the table. Each serving, as below, was made to order, and cost five pounds.
I ached for a taste, but there is no way I could eat all of that right now. I stood watching the gregarious attendant serve his guests with a passion and flare that would not let me escape.
There was a help yourself salt shaker, and grilled marinated vegetables in a plastic tub. No garlic (that I saw). The sea salt and the garlic would have made this completely irresistible. Still, look at that smile. And this customer did have the appearance of a regular.
Of course, the server caught my eye: And for you, madame? Blush.Â Sorry, I am just watching. Triple blush. The brush was dipped deeply into the olive oil more than a few times and drizzled over the dish. Oh, my!
I did wait only until the gentleman was served but could have stood watching the pleasure of this man with the simplest and most satisfying ingredients interact with his customers a much longer while. Again, just look at that grin.
Meats, and cheeses, spreads, and more vegetables…. then cheeses from France!
And a Nigerian booth with the most interesting looking food in massive wok type pans. I watched and sniffed. Very new and different and appetizing aromas… and a line up: so many new and unknown cuisines for me!
Artisan baked goods. I have never seen bread pudding look like this (below, left). This booth was really incredible. Baking all the amazing homey items, and then getting them here would be a huge undertaking. There must be considerable waste, too. (Who thinks like that? – me!)
The apple strudel looked so different than we are used to in Western Canada. But, I have seen the real thing made with the most transparent sheets of homemade pastry in Vienna and in the Eastern Block countries. Nothing can top it. This one certainly looks like it was made with a whole lotta love, but the crust is too thick for my liking.
The artisan breads and sausage rolls had me hault in my space for more than a second or two. What beautiful breads!
There were flavourful and colourful stuffed or filled savory pies and then there were flavoured cornbreads!
The Sweet Corn Fritters (below, left) looked like savory cookies. What a concept! The Easter Simnel Cakes were wrapped so beautifully. I investigated these as much as possible through the wrapping. I was surprised, upon return, that this English tradition did not cross the pond with so many others that are part of my Canadian heritage. I have never heard of, or seen one of these. (The link is a very interesting read, though.)
And then the sweet pies and cakes were so gorgeous and quite simple: a wonderful tribute to Spring!
As were the Hyacinths!
And my sojourn continues: up and down the market street there were people as far as the eye could see! Incredible.
And never a dull moment: wooden buckets full of condiments, similar to what I found in Harrod’s on the food floor. Each item looked fresh and tasty. How much volume would need to pass by these big tubs to empty them daily?
The garlic reminded me of the marinated cloves I ate in Firenze at the inside market in the old town a couple of years ago. I didn’t buy any. I have made them at home very close to the original that I tasted. I love them. Talk about contagious.
At the other end of the open tub tables a fellow was making fresh chorizo sausage sandwiches with your choice of condiments.
And then I saw the first (of several) gigantic paella pans. I thought the one Vanja’s cousin used last year was the biggest there was. WRONG! These blew me away!
Oh, my! Look at how many there are! And the food in them was disappearing almost faster than they could make it. Every pan they made was a different variety and we were each invited to taste the wonderfully aromatic flavour with a plastic spoon once itÂ was ready for sale. The one I tried transported me to the Adriatic Coast and the fresh mussel lunch I was enjoying last summer right beside the sea at Perast.
I was able to see how they made them. The sauce was prepared and flavourful and then the rice was poured in followed by more water, like so (six photos below).
The one in the foreground with the squid has just had all ingredients (rice and water, above) added to it. The others are ready to serve. The gal making this, tastes it to ensure the flavour is still strong. The savory sausage and rosemary paella looks so creamy and the mussels with shrimp,Â green peas and red peppers looks magnificently flavourful.
Let me tell you, it was really hard to walk away from this kind of spectacular food spectacle. Very exhilarating for the Canadian Foodie to be watching something so aromatic, colourful, flavourful, and exotic made so artfully with the most simple ingredients and put together so quickly. Wowzers!
I lifted my head up. Time to start back if I am to meet Vanja at the hotel by 5 o’clock. I have been here about 3 hours, and have to walk all of the way back and through the tube to the hotel in an hour. I have no idea how long it will take. Turning around, I see Starbucks! What is Starbucks doing in the Portabello Market! Isn’t that blasphemy? If I was a Londoner, I would think so. As a tourist, I think so. Let me drink London coffee, at least at the market!
So, I turned around by the Paella tables, and headed back. You can see above that the road winded on and on and on, as far as my eye could see, crowded with people the entire distance. Maybe, someday….
In the meantime, I can now investigate what I missed that was on the other side of the road. Look at this beautiful fish. Such variety!
There is definitely no place to sit, so the little stoops on the side streets are perfect for a short break. I didn’t feel I needed one. Too much adrenalin rushing through me with the exhilaration of being at such an amazing market with so much to see. I didn’t want to miss a thing. I was going to, but that was fine. It was a feast for the birds, too!
On the other side of the fresh food market, the spring artichokes reminded me of being at Carmel last summer seeing fields of them grow.
Ah! Now, this is my London. The one living in my head from the late sixeties and early seventies when the British pop groups took the world by storm.
Back past the barrels… and fruit… and street entertainers…
Enlarge the photo below. I have never seen or heard of toasted tea cakes. What do they taste like? Crackers? Cookies? Biscuits?
The fresh air is sweet with the scent of Easter and Spring…. and, look! (below, left): french fries in newspaper!
A little voyeuristic, I know. But look at these three lovely young gals in fur, cashmere, and suede. I could not resist capturing their moment at the market. I could write an entire novel around these three characters. The storybook nouveau richeÂ one would expect to find strolling along the antique market on Nottinghill on a Saturday afternoon. Here they are eating crab claws from the booth below.
Shrimp or claws? By the truckload!
And I am winding my way back gently up the hill. I see the gals that were earlier selling their cupcakes at their table selling more sweets.
Oh, the vintage dinky toys. At least, that is what we called them. And the crowds, as interesting as the wares.
Vintage leather basketballs and footballs. I wonder how your soccer game is going, Vanja. And more toy soldiers… and so many miniature delights that captured me for hours and hours as a child.
I have never seen so many vintage cameras. This is truly the place for almost anything. If you are collecting and it is not here, someone will surely know who to ask to help you find it.
How I wanted to stop by these books. I did stop, dead. And seriously thought about sitting awhile and browsing through each one until I found “mine”. I have a book fetish and am completely thrilled to find an old book with someone’s personal notes through out it, and maybe a glimpse into the past through the eyes of the reader, too.
Gee… do you think this pair might be a little mismatched. I had to take a photo. One was so into the music and the other clearly suffering through it. But it sounded great.
There were not that many street performers. Just a few.
I have crossed the street that I first entered the market street on and have decided to walk it down all the way to the road I first turned on just to “see what I could see”.
Why did we all take photos of this? Maybe because there was no time to stop and look at the plaques and licences. Surely because it is novel.
I follow the crowd down the pretty street. Many walking in the middle of the narrow road. I, on the sidewalk peering into little English gardens and feeling the moss on the bricks.
And one pretty little pink tree dancing in the splattering rain. What is that? A plaque between two windows and people photographing it?
I am a huge Orwell fan and must have read Animal Farm 50 or more times as I taught it in my grade 9 classes for years. Brilliant novel. Metaphors in layers.
I loved how at the end of the street the buildings rounded with the corner.
A cute colourful shop that the three little sweets came out of. The Gate Hotel rounds around the corner and is quite a reasonably priced place though I didn’t peek in.
So pretty. I have no idea what it is. I am on the street around the corner now where I first entered and saw the taxis, heading back to the intersecting road where the Nodding Hill Gate station is.
Look at all the double decker buses. What fun. And kewpie dolls! Oh, my. I remember mine. I got her at the Red Deer Fair one year and she was by my bedroom window for many years as a child when I was still sleeping with my sister in the upstairs bedroom. Honestly, I felt the same pulling of the heartstrings seeing her here in this window as I felt loving her as a child.
This one is for you, Vanja! Borek! I found some borek here! Crossing the street to the Underground, I turn and see Burger King! Then, KFC (lower left)!! Who needs it? Really! We are in London Town!
Back on the subway headed for the hotel to prepare for dinner my head is filled with my first afternoon in London. By myself, at the market. I had the perfect afternoon. I hope Vanja enjoyed the Chelsea soccer game as much!
When I got back to the hotel, it was clear Vanja had a fantastic time at his game and had an amazing experience acquiring his ticket and spending his afternoon with the Chelsea fans in London. And Beavie? Well, Beavie was having a moment. I don’t know what I was thinking. I absolutely meant to bring Beavie with me.